Jazminn Cartner from Boise, Idaho spent her summer studying abroad in Bangalore, India. She describes her experience living, working and volunteering abroad as life changing. As you can see below from her reflection of her time abroad, she not only gained so much from India, but India gained a lot from her.
The first time I ever heard about The Shoe That Grows was from my mom one afternoon. I was sitting at home one day working on school work and I was more than likely venting about some sort of anxiety I was having about the whole India trip. Until then I had no idea that there was a guy out in Nampa, Idaho, only twenty minutes from my home, running a bursting non-profit startup. While living and working in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007 Kenton noticed a problem and realized an inventive solution. Around him were young children who had to walk long distances each day in shoes that were beaten down, too big, too small, or not at all. Kenton then created the idea, which I still cannot believe hasn’t been thought of and put into action before for it is so compassionately and inventively simple. Why not create a shoe that adjust in width and length, made out of moldable material, and allowed a child to have a durable pair of shoes that would last them throughout a childhood.
That was in 2007. Now the Shoe That Grows is but one expanding project that Kenton’s organization BeCause has created. BeCause International believes in practical and compassionate change in order to transform the over time the daily lives of the poor. I really liked what I read on their website and so I personally contacted Kenton via email one day. I knew that I might have the change to volunteer in communities in Bangalore that could really benefit from Kenton’s bright idea. I found myself a few days later at his house, I knew exactly where it was, I had a friend who I used to visit that lived two blocks away. I left with eight pairs of shoes and secured a promise to update him on where I went with his shoes. That was the last time I ever had any real contact with Kenton or anyone dealing with BeCause International. I was off running around India while Kenton’s great idea grew and expanded across the states. When I first met him I was really inspired to make the same change in people’s lives. I still honor him, any anyone, for trying to change the world simply with compassion being their driving force.
The Shoe That Grows never had any reason or held any weight in my decision to go to India. India always came first. I remember looking at globes and maps with my mom when I was a kid. I was so young I don’t even think I really could really conceptualize the idea of other countries yet, but I tried. India was always the country my finger would land on. I can’t remember the first time I ever felt and thought “I want to go there.” It’s always just been there. It was one of those distant wants, the ones we think we won’t get to till the day we’re “mature adults.” I was studying with my French tutor one semester and we started talking about her recent semester in Rome studying abroad. We started talking about all of the places we wanted to go and I must have said something about India. She pulled up USAC’s website and showed me the Bangalore, India program webpage. I always wanted to try to study abroad but never put much energy into pursuing it. After she showed me the webpage a natural progression just happened. I was procrastinating a term paper a few weeks later. I remember it was really cold outside in Boise. I was in my school’s library. I just decided to apply, right then and there, to the Bangalore Spring 2015 program. I sent it off. I didn’t tell anyone and I had almost forgotten about it, when I got a package in the mail with an acceptance letter. A year later that natural progression culminated into a defined moment. I left the Pacific Northwest winter behind me for the eternally humid summer of southern India.
I spent the semester working and volunteering in a rural slum community named L.R. Nagar. It’s only a five minute rickshaw ride from USAC Housing to the gateway of the community. As soon as you walk into the narrow streets that seem more like alleyways of a slum community, there is an apparent contrast between the lives of people inside and outside of it. The hard part is trying to describe what it’s like to be in a different place without outside associations being stitched into it. This was not the streets of Slumdog Millionaire. It was a pocketed community with the technology of a rural village, in the middle of a booming modern city. India is too often associated with the negative stigma of being a ‘third world country.’ As they like to say, it is developing.
By the end of the semester, with the help of CSA, I finally had the chance to meet the kids that we were going to give Kenton’s Shoes That Grow to. They were younger, around the ages of six to eight, there teachers had selected them as top academic students in their classes. Because of the language barrier I don’t think they really understand who I was and why they were getting shoes… they were just happy to be recognized.
India really changed my perspective. There hasn’t been one day since I’ve been back in Boise, Idaho that I haven’t thought about India. It surprises me what things here remind me of a memory from there. People ask “How was it?” I still haven’t been able to come up with an appropriate response. Being able to support The Shoe That Grows and work in L.R. Nagar was something I will never forget. However, they are just one of many impressions left on me from India. I don’t think five months was long enough for me. I thrived off of the vibrance of the world there. It may seem like a really bustling, chaotic, dirty, and destitute place but it is so much more than that. Once you’re there and immersing yourself in it, that’s when it makes sense. India is an ancient mixing pot of zeal for life and enjoying the past. It’s a culture that runs deep into history. The remnants of the past empires can be seen still in the fervor of her people.
Want to find out how you can make a difference abroad? Check out all of the great volunteer opportunities that are available!